You stand with your team, feeling the rope in your hands. You notice the weight of it. The roughness of its fibers.
Across the platform, you see the other team doing the same. Immense fear washes over you as you examine them. Your team is a hodgepodge of characters – young, old, male, female, scrawny, bulky. The other team is stacked. Large figures, twice the size of you, take their place. You spot one smiling to himself.
You know that smile. It’s the smile of assurance. He is smiling for the same reason you aren’t. You’re outmatched and you both know it.
The victory of an underdog
Later, in the barracks, you can’t believe you won. Speechless is a better way to describe it. You should have lost. Your team should have lost. But here you are, the victor. In fact, by all outside opinion, your victory is nothing but a fluke. A coin flip that went heads instead of tails.
Part of you agrees with them. Yet, part of you doesn’t.
Luck did play a part in it. However, something more intentional did so as well. Before the match, one of your teammates, an older gentleman, called for a meeting. He explained that tug of war was one of his favorite games as a child. And though he was a small little thing at the time, he had a track record of winning. Winning against the odds.
The other team was confident. They felt their victory guaranteed. Their approach would be straightforward: use brute strength. Your team, the old man explained, didn’t have that option. Instead, you would need to rely on other factors. Factors that, if done correctly, could lead to victory.
First, he noted that for the first ten seconds of the match, you each must lean back. Lean back as far as you could. That would anchor you in place. While the other team pulled and pulled, you wouldn’t budge. And believing their victory to be an easy one, the other team would quickly become disheartened after no clear progress.
With their morale crushed, you could swoop in.
More than a show of strength
Further, the old man explained that placement was important as well. The leader should be at the front of the line. A reliably strong person should be at the end. The leader would serve as a morale-booster. The strong person would serve as a weight.
Still more, instead of stacking everyone by their dominant hand, each player should be staggered. One on the left, one on the right. All the way down the line. That way you don’t get in each other’s way. Finally, he explained that you should hold the rope under your arm so as to provide better grip and less burning of the hands.
If the team could manage that, he said, victory stood within reach. Now as you look around at your smiling teammates, you are grateful for the man’s advice.
The games of a debtor
Squid Game is a dark, fictional show on Netflix. It takes place in South Korea and follows individuals who are deep in debt. With no other options, they enroll in a program that is wholly unique. The premise is simple. Each individual plays a total of six children’s games. In order to win the prize at the end, they must make it through all six of the games.
If they don’t, they are eliminated.
What the main character, Gi-hun, soon finds out though is that eliminated doesn’t just mean removed from the game. It means removed from life. If they fail to complete a game, they are killed on the spot. The stakes are literally life or death. However, if they do survive through to the end, they will win more money than they can count. Their debts will be repaid and they can sail through the rest of their days on a metaphorical yacht made of gold.
As Gi-hun faces the third game, he is sure his luck has run out.
Staring across the way, he and his team are the clear underdogs. They will need a miracle. And that is when the old man speaks up. Thanks to his instruction, Gi-hun and his team walk away with their lives. And they are one step closer to claiming their prize.
Move forward as tug of war champ
You are the underdog many times in life. You face people with more experience, money, and strength. Yet your defeat isn’t guaranteed. Just because a ruler sits atop the throne doesn’t mean you can’t claim the seat for yourself. It won’t be easy, but that’s to be expected.
Something else to be expected? Doubt.
When you face a strong opponent, uncertainty is commonplace. Negativity rises. Morale drops. But it doesn’t have to. As you stare down your next insurmountable challenge, remember the above story. Your opponent may have a clear advantage, but that doesn’t mean all roads to victory are blocked. Just the obvious ones. Before you give up though, take a moment to examine the less common paths.
- Lean back when everyone else is pulling you forward.
- Be strategic about who goes where.
- Give yourself room to maneuver.
- Get a good grip and hold on.
Win the fight
I’ll leave you with one other brief story. It’s not related to tug of war, but it is related to underdogs.
I recently came across a story in the book, License to Parent, by Christina Hillsberg with Ryan Hillsberg. In it, the authors tell a true account of an Olympic fighter. He had won a bronze medal and was walking down the street when two thugs emerged from the shadows. The Olympian tried to fight them off, but they got the best of him. They mugged him and ran.
If you had to bet beforehand, you’d have easily put money on the Olympian winning the battle.
But the two thugs had him outmatched in height and weight. A difference that, the Hillsbergs’ note, was enough that even had the Olympian been the best fighter in the world, his defeat was inevitable. Now, you might consider the Olympian the underdog in this scenario. But I don’t. He’s certainly the good guy in it. But the bad guys are the actual underdogs. They went head-to-head in a skirmish against an expert-level fighter. And, somehow, they won. I don’t condone their actions, but I include it here as an illustration of the underdog winning out.
You can be out-experienced and still claim victory. You can be smaller, weaker, poorer, and still stand atop the podium. As you face your next opponent, know that victory is possible. And hold on tight.